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Dancing Earth brings technology and tradition to ASU Gammage

Photo taken by James A. for Dancing Earth in 2019.

January 17, 2020

Tradition meets the future in an upcoming show in ASU Gammage’s “Beyond” series.

Dancing Earth presents “Between Underground and Skyworld,” a multimedia dance and theater performance inspired by the relationship between indigenous practices and the future of the environment. 

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Rulan Tangen, artistic founding director of Dancing Earth, said she was inspired by emerging technology and how intertribal traditions influence the future of our ecosystem.

“To really understand and care about the life force that is in every living being is certainly omnipresent in indigenous philosophies to reimagine that connection,” she said.

“Between Underground and Skyworld” transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. With costumes from thrift stores and upcycled set designs, the show brings the Earth to the theater.

“It’s not about extravagance, it’s about looking at what you know is already there and how we can create something from that,” Tangen said. “And I think that is a beautiful way of life.”

Onstage, the performers become “eco-superheroes,” a term Tangen used to define the dancers’ abilities and transformation into their characters.

“I’m hoping this will ignite a lot of inspiration about people reimagining the future,” Tangen said.

Dancing Earth will be lighting up the ASU Gammage stage Jan. 25. “Between Underground and Skyworld” begins at 7 p.m., but events begin much earlier — and not on the stage.

A participatory festival celebrating the opening groundwork and people of the land will commence at 4 p.m. The festival will feature an eco fashion show, Native art market booths, Native American food trucks, performance art and more.

Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, senior adviser to the president and director of the Center for Indian Education, is helping to bring new ideas to the preshow festivities. 

“This isn't just what's happening on the stage — it's about what happens when you park your car and you get out of it and you begin to walk toward ASU Gammage,” Brayboy said.

Tangen said it is an indigenous principle to ask permission to use the land before hosting any event, and the opening groundwork will do just that.

“People will be walking into an immersive experience that has committed people talking about their vision for the future,” Tangen said.

Amongst the art for the opening groundwork will be an original structure from architect Wanda Dalla Costa, joint professor for the School of Design and Del E. Webb School of Construction.

The structure will stand more than 15 feet tall and will honor the local indigenous culture in Arizona. Dalla Costa said it is aiming to support Tangen’s idea of indigenous-centric futurity.

The details of the structure and its hidden meanings add richness to the structure, Dalla Costa said. Some of the symbols on the structure include 22 markers connoting the 22 tribes in Arizona and solar LED lights to represent the style and ideals of the future. 

“We are aiming for new expressions of indigeneity in our design work,” Dalla Costa said.

Overall, the piece will be a place for reflection and conversation. With benches surrounding the structure, Dalla Costa said she hopes it will be a space to connect with indigenous history and to share that history with nonindigenous people.

“When people think of indigeneity, they probably think of something more traditional, but we want to make it a very future-oriented piece,” Dalla Costa said. “Bringing in this technology sends the message that we are commingling our lifeways and our belief system with contemporary technology.”

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